Book Review: Reinventing Metal: The True Story of Pantera and the Tragically Short Life of Dimebag Darrell by Neil Daniels

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The fact that there are not tons of Pantera books lining the shelves is surprising to me. Their story is truly unique, and the December 8, 2004 murder of Dimebag Darrel while onstage with Damageplan provides an awful finality to the tale. As the cliché goes, you just can't make this stuff up.

As author Neil Daniels notes in Reinventing Metal: The True Story of Pantera and the Tragically Short Life of Dimebag Darrell, only Black Tooth Grin: The High Life, Good Times, and Tragic End of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott by Zac Crain (2009) which is really the story of Dimebag's life rather than the story of Pantera, is about the only other book that is widely available.

Reinventing Metal is an unauthorized biography of Pantera, from their first four self-released "glam" albums, through their glory years in the '90s and beyond. The sensational murder of Dimebag by a deranged fan will always be the headline about Pantera in retrospectives, which is just the way it is. But what gets lost is just how important a band they were. In many ways, Pantera almost single-handedly rescued the music from terminal irrelevancy.

By the early '90s, the once-feared genre of heavy metal was little more than a joke, thanks to the success of Poison, Warrant, Cinderella and their ilk. Hair metal, or as Daniels calls it "glam metal" was all the rage in the '80s. When Nirvana hit with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991, they made all of those guys look ridiculous in comparison. With Cowboys From Hell (1990) and especially Vulgar Display of Power (1992), Pantera made metal fearsome again.

Ah, but there are those first four albums, apparently deleted forever. Daniels details the writing and recording processes behind Metal Magic (1983), Projects in the Jungle (1984), I Am the Night (1985), and Power Metal (1988). I have never heard any of this stuff, so I cannot really comment other to take his word for it that they were of their time. It makes sense, the guys were very young, and all they knew for sure was that they wanted to play music to make a living.

No matter how "bad" the music on those albums might be, it is still very impressive that they managed to self-release four albums. And all of this before anyone really outside of Texas even knew their name. The big change came when singer Phil Anselmo joined the band. He brought a much more aggressive style to them, which the music came to reflect. This was not really apparent on their final self-released album Power Metal, which had mostly been written before he joined, but it sure was by the time of their major label debut Cowboys From Hell.

The '90s were very good to Pantera. They were one of, if not the top metal act of the decade, and released four studio albums plus a live one on the Atco label. There was trouble in paradise though, especially when Anselmo began using heroin. This eventually led to what was officially called a "hiatus," but was basically the end of the line for the band. The "reason" (if such a thing exists) for the fan's murder of Dimebag was that he had broken up Pantera and formed Damageplan with his brother Vinnie Paul Abbott.

Daniels gets it all down, and what I like about his writing style is the fact that he does not waste time on stuff we do not care about. I have read far too many "definitive" biographies that spend an inordinate amount of time on such irrelevancies as why the artist got a D in math in the 9th grade. Who gives a shit? Daniels gets right to it, and for that I am grateful.

This is a very good book, whether Pantera's music was your cup of tea or not. They were an  important band, and from what I can tell, the author covers all aspects of their career.